The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Alone Again, Naturally: "War of God"/"The Sea Beggar"/"Priest of Death"/"Bell of Doom" [The Massacre]

[The late-blooming flower of this story]


We know this much is true:
King Charles IX of France, under the sway of his mother, Catherine de Medici, orders the assassination of Huguenot Protestant leaders in Paris, setting off an orgy of killing that results in the massacre of tens of thousands of Huguenots all across France.

Two days earlier, Catherine had ordered the murder of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, a Huguenot leader whom she felt was leading her son into war with Spain. However, Coligny was only wounded, and Charles promised to investigate the assassination in order to placate the angry Huguenots. Catherine then convinced the young king that the Huguenots were on the brink of rebellion, and he authorized the murder of their leaders by the Catholic authorities. Most of these Huguenots were in Paris at the time, celebrating the marriage of their leader, Henry of Navarre, to the king’s sister, Margaret.

A list of those to be killed was drawn up, headed by Coligny, who was brutally beaten and thrown out of his bedroom window just before dawn on August 24. Once the killing started, mobs of Catholic Parisians, apparently overcome with bloodlust, began a general massacre of Huguenots. Charles issued a royal order on August 25 to halt the killing, but his pleas went unheeded as the massacres spread. Mass slaughters continued into October, reaching the provinces of Rouen, Lyon, Bourges, Bourdeaux, and Orleans. An estimated 3,000 French Protestants were killed in Paris, and as many as 70,000 in all of France. The massacre of Saint Bartholomew’s Day marked the resumption of religious civil war in France.

In classic Doctor Who historical fashion, the TARDIS lands the Doctor and Steven in the middle of all of this. The Doctor goes to meet a scientist, instructing Steven to lie low. Of course he doesn't. He gets involved in trying to prevent the massacre, even trying to intercede with the plotting Abbot of Amboise, thinking he is the Doctor (as he's played William Hartnell, we can have some sympathy for Steven--they are dead ringers. Steven's efforts fail, and he is hiding in the apothecary's shop with Anne Chaplet, a servant of the Abbot's caught up in all the plotting who has been with Steven for the last half of the serial. The Doctor insists that Anne run home, or to her aunt's. He refuses to take her with them, despite Steven's anxiety on her behalf and Anne's own fear.


The Doctor and Steven watch the massacre from the TARDIS scanner, deploring their inability to change history. Steven seethes over the Doctor's abandonment of Anne, and tells the Doctor that wherever they land, he's getting off:
STEVEN: Surely there was something we could have done?
DOCTOR: No, nothing. Nothing. In any case, I cannot change the course of history, you know that. The massacre continued for several days in Paris and then spread itself to other parts of France. Oh, what a senseless waste. What a terrible page of the past.
STEVEN: Did they all die?
DOCTOR: Yes, most of them. About ten thousand in Paris alone.
STEVEN: The Admiral?
STEVEN: Nicholas? You had to leave Anne Chaplet there to die.
DOCTOR: Anne Chaplet?
STEVEN: The girl! The girl who was with me! If you'd brought her with us she needn't have died. But no, you had to leave her there to be slaughtered.
DOCTOR: Well, it is possible of course she didn't die, and I was right to leave her.
STEVEN: Possible? Look, how possible? That girl was already hunted by the Catholic guards. If they killed ten thousand how did they spare her? You don't know, do you? You can't say for certain that you weren't responsible for that girl's death.
DOCTOR: I was not responsible.
STEVEN: Oh, no. You just sent her back to her aunt's house where the guards were waiting to catch her. I tell you this much, Doctor, wherever this machine of yours lands next I'm getting off. If your researches have so little regard for human life then I want no part of it.

True to his word, Steven storms out. A young woman, Dorothea Chaplet, enters the open TARDIS door, thinking it really is a police box, and eager to report an accident. Steven charges back in, warning the Doctor the police are coming. They take off, with Steven uneasy about the young woman, until he and the Doctor each find a source of comfort in her presence:
STEVEN: Doctor, how could you?
DOCTOR: What else could I do, dear boy? You don't want a couple of policemen aboard the Tardis do you? You know, you're the most inconsistent young man? Just now you were telling me off for not having that Chaplet girl aboard!
STEVEN: Ah, that was different! This is no joyride you know. You may never get home again.
DODO: I don't care.
STEVEN: What about your parents?
DODO: I haven't got any. I live with me great aunt, and she won't care if she never sees me again.
DOCTOR: There now, you see? All this fuss about nothing. But don't you think she looks rather like my grandchild Susan?
STEVEN: You forget, I've never met your granddaughter.
DOCTOR: Oh, no, no, no, no, of course not, no. Yes, but she does you know. What is your name, child?
DODO: Dodo.
DODO: It's Dorothea, really. Dorothea Chaplet.
STEVEN: Chaplet? Yes, but you're not French, are you?
DODO: Don't be daft. Me granddad was, though.
STEVEN: Doctor, it's not possible is it? Chaplet? Anne's great, great
DOCTOR: Yes, yes, it is possible, my boy. Very possible. Welcome aboard the Tardis, Miss Dorothea Chaplet.


It's funny how well historicals come across in recons. Maybe it's because they're so less dependent on spectacle than the more future-based or sic-fi storylines, but the most watchable reconstructions of lost stories that I've seen throughout the Hartnell era have been the historicals.

The Daleks' Master Plan is clearly undermined by the loss of the physical performances of its cast, as the few surviving episodes show. The Doctor's cool effrontery in stealing the Terrarium Core, Kingdom's icy ruthlessness in hunting her brother and his comrades down--seeing these moments makes you confront the vitiated nature of what's left. As I said last time, Marsh's voice alone makes her death scene horrible to watch, yet impossible to turn away from. Imagine if we had more than mere telesnaps.

Well, The Massacre, or The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve doesn't have anything in it that suggests such a loss. It's an interesting experiment: the first "Doctor-lite" story, but unlike previous stories where the Doctor would be off for an episode to give Hartnell a rest, here the Doctor disappears partway through the first episode, only to reappear well into the fourth an final episode. The Doctor is is missing for the bulk of the story--but William Hartnell is not; he plays the Abbot of Amboise, a ruthless persecutor of the Huguenots, albeit not as bright as he thinks he is. The Abbot is very different from the Doctor, showing that Hartnell was capable of more than one kind of performance. He's stern and gruff, but rather like a sergeant who has made errors that compromise the mission, refuses to accept that they will have any consequence. Steven, seeing the Abbot, thinks he has found the Doctor, only to watch the Abbot's murder. After his efforts to help avert bloodshed, Steven returns to the apothecary shop where the Doctor had intended to go.

This story arc comes with a sting in its tail; the Doctor, his friendship with Steven strained by the events of The Daleks' Masterplan, sees it shattered by his readopting of his old dictum that "you can't change history--not one line!" (intriguingly suspended recently), finds himself alone in the sterile white confines of the TARDIS. The old man broods:
Even after all this time he cannot understand. I dare not change the course of history. Well, at least I taught him to take some precautions. He did remember to look at the scanner before he opened the doors.

Now they're all gone.

All gone.

None of them could understand.

Not even my little Susan, or Vicki.

And as for Barbara and Chatterton. Chesterton. They were all too impatient to get back to their own time. And now, Steven.

Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet. But I can't. I can't.
The Doctor doesn't respond with anger, here, but with sorrow, and a bit of guilt that he seems to be tamping down. This moment was never intended, of course, to be what it became, but it's part of a triptych: it leads naturally to The Fires of Pompei and to The Girl Who Died. Absent this moment, you don't have the Tenth Doctor's yielding to Donna's entreaties, and the Twelfth Doctor rejecting the old dictum, without becoming The Time Lord Victorious.

Because the end is a cheat--Steven's return make no sense; Dodo's running away with them just happens out of the blue (what happened to that little boy hurt in the accident she was so grieved about when she bounced into the TARDIS). As so often happens in early Doctor Who, the candy-coating is put on for the sake of the children, but we adults watching know where the story really ends.

An old man, alone, abandoned by all the friends he finally learned how to make.

Grieving his impotence in the face of tragedy.

And remembering its cost.

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